Carer’s story: Rahima Subhan

For as long as I can remember, my mum was in and out of hospital. One of my early memories is when I was about six and in hospital myself, with suspected appendicitis. My mum had an asthma attack in the ward. I remember the feeling that she wasn’t going to make it. A nurse told me she was in a coma, but would be OK. I cried myself to sleep.

Mum did recover, and was able to care for my grandmother who came to live with us. Rahima 1Grandma had a major stroke which affected her speech, her continence, her mobility. Grandma’s right hand was closed in a fist – I used to massage her hand to help loosen it up.

My grandmother passed away when I was 16. At this time, mum’s health was relatively good and I had a break from caring for a few years. I set my sights on a career in medicine.

When I was 20, mum’s health declined steeply. She needed physical help moving around and providing physio, using a wheelchair. I was just about able to keep up my studies while looking after her.

A couple of years later, I had to change my plans entirely. Mum had a massive stroke caused by a complication with her medication. I was preparing for my final year exams.

It was hard to fit in revision alongside visiting her every day, but I got special dispensation to delay my exams. My last exam was a three-hour essay paper, which finished at 1pm. I left the exam hall, turned on my phone. The rehab centre called at that moment saying that mum was being discharged. I didn’t even have a chance to go and tidy the house.

I was fuelled by adrenalin and Lucozade – feeling weak but forgetting to eat. It was physically demanding and mentally challenging too. In whatever time I had to myself, I would study the medical notes and learned to speak in medical terms with the consultants.

If my mum hadn’t been such an amazing woman, I might have felt down. But her positivity was infectious. She’d had a tough life herself, being widowed in her 20s and working two jobs to make ends meet, raising her two daughters on her own, then suffering such ill health herself. She always persevered, and she was always so interested in people. At home and in hospital people would come and feed off her energy.

During my lifetime, there were at least seven or eight times when mum’s life hung in the balance. Throughout my childhood, she was so good at recovering and continuing as if nothing had happened. Having fun, entertaining, educating and raising her children, making clothes for herself and her children and home-growing vegetables in the garden. She made normality for us.

I’d come to see her as a superwoman. But while she remained resilient and famous for her smile and laughter, she could not keep going forever. For the last three years of her life, she was bed-bound and incontinent. Her conditions worsened and she was prone to infection.

I wasn’t able to do it all myself. Given the complexity of mum’s medical issues, I wasn’t able to find care workers who had all the skills required. But I was able to get funding to get a pool of care workers trained specifically to deal with mum’s needs. So I became employer as well as carer.

Rahima2At this point I made a live-it list. At 25, due to the demands of my caring role, I knew a career in medicine was not a route I could pursue, so instead I enrolled on part-time courses in Japanese, British Sign Language and photography.

Mum eventually passed away just before my 28th birthday. When I look back, I feel grateful for the quality time I was able to have with her. There were times when she couldn’t sleep at night, and we would just sit and talk for ages. Those were precious times that I simply wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t been caring for her.

Four years later, I’m studying for a Masters in linguistics, I’m developing my photography portfolio and I am currently working on writing mother’s biography.

When the opportunity came for new Carers UK ambassadors I didn’t hesitate to apply as I am determined to make a difference and contribute to a great cause that I have been closely connected to for most of my life.